As national lockdowns are slowly lifted, fDi is reaching out to professionals on the FDI frontline as they grapple with the biggest global challenge in recent history. Malta began easing restrictions on May 4, with shops, bars and restaurants reopening. 

Malta Enterprise’s CEO Kurt Farrugia reflects on how his team had to adjust during a very stressful period.

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Q: How has Malta Enterprise handled the crisis?

The government entrusted Malta Enterprise to administer the Covid-19 wage supplement scheme, which provided slightly more than a minimum wage to every employee of shut down shops and businesses.

All of a sudden over two weeks, we had to process 20,000 applications for the Covid-19  wage supplement scheme, while having to continue with our investment promotion work. We found ourselves in a situation where we’re asking people to work from home – but the workload had grown 20-fold.

We managed quite well, but of course I look forward to restarting life at the office [albeit with new restrictions in place].

Q: How has your team been affected?

People had to work long hours, literally overnight. We had to build new IT systems for new schemes, so clients could apply over the internet. We had to up our game as an organisation. 

It was a very stressful time, but we’re now seeing light at the end of the tunnel. 

At the same time, I’m aware that we need to ensure the wellbeing of employees and clients, in regards to the pandemic but also psychologically. 

We have been used to meeting happy clients while the economy was doing well. Now all of a sudden we are talking to companies in distress because they’re down to zero income. It has had a psychological impact, and that’s something we need to look at.

Q: What are your strategies for the future?

We have started working on strategies to revive the economy. Tourism accounts for about 30% of Malta’s GDP, so we need to encourage local people to start using hotels.

Hopefully we will have more staycations in Malta, and our sister islands Gozo and Camino. We look forward to reopening our airports and implementing safe corridors with countries that have more or less managed the Covid-19 situation.

We’ll continue our investment promotion work with clients, by hosting virtual tours of the country and holding virtual meetings, providing access to all the relevant authorities. 

We have also done some video tours of particular manufacturing facilities to show companies the sort of services and activities that Malta has. Of course, I look forward to the time when clients can come to Malta and see for themselves, because nothing replaces the experience of being in a place.

Q: How are you fostering start-ups?

Malta can be an interesting place for start-ups from North America, Africa and the Middle East to set up in Europe.

Malta has its own start-ups, but we need to get more investors to look at our start-up community and create incentives to attract start-ups, particularly in software game development, and get them to look at Malta as a hub from which to grow.

In the last few months we have been collaborating with universities. For instance, with the University of Salerno, where we’re starting an incubation centre in Malta for spinoffs that want to internationalise their product and use incentives that we offer as an island.

We’ve also started some work with Ghanian counterparts. There are Maltese businesses that wanted to do business in Africa, and we have started a collaboration with Start-up Accra.

Q: What’s your advice to other IPA leaders? 

We need to encourage more multilateralism and cooperation between states and countries [such as the collaboration with Ghana]. 

Strengths that we have in Malta are weaknesses in other countries, and strengths other countries have complement weaknesses we have.

We should encourage collaboration and multilateral investments across jurisdictions.

Kurt Farrugia is the CEO of Malta Enterprise.

You can find the full archive of the fDi’s Virus Diaries series at the following link. If you work in economic development or investment promotion and want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus, get in touch at fDi@ft.com.